My Kid Is Lying

lyingLet’s talk about something that worries parents like few other behaviors. Let’s talk about lying, why kids lie, what to do about it and how to prevent it.

Humans of all ages lie. We lie to protect others and ourselves. We lie to bypass or get out of trouble. We lie to save face, appear more interesting, improve social standing or improve relationships.

Since kids often have poor impulse control and are unable to connect current behavior to future consequences, lying often becomes a quick way to problem solve. A parent’s job is to show a child that lying doesn’t pay off and that it is damaging to everyone involved—most of all to the one doing the lying.

Prevention

How do you raise honest kids?

1. Do your best to create an atmosphere where telling the truth is valued no matter what that truth sounds like. Try your best to stay calm when your child brings you negative news.  By showing a child that you’re more focused on problem solving than on shaming and lecturing, you create an environment where the ugly truth has greater value than the prettiest lies. Will you always manage to remain in control? Maybe not but by striving to create an overall atmosphere of emotional safety, you can prevent behaviors such as these from becoming bad habits.

2. Look at your own behavior. What do you do when you feel cornered? Share experiences with your child as you go through them. Talk about a situation during the day where you were tempted to lie but didn’t. Talk about what you said or what you wish you would have said in a specific situation. Sharing words of wisdom is great. Sharing the struggles that lead to the wisdom is even greater.

 

Your child lied to you. Now what?

Try not to freak out. Kids test boundaries and lying often becomes a part of seeing what works.

1, You don’t want to ignore this behavior. If you catch a child in a lie, stop what you’re doing and focus on what was said. Leave the interrogation techniques to Perry Mason and don’t shame or moralize. Remain factual and calm. You want your child to stop in her tracks, back up and try again. This will give her a chance to do things over instead of adding yet more lies to cover up the first one.

2. If your child is unwilling to confess, and you know for certain that she is lying, discuss what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a lie. How would your child like it if you promised her a trip to Disneyland, and as you are all happily moving down the road towards a fun filled day of wonder, you instead head to the dentist? Ask her to remember a time when someone lied to her. How did that make her feel? Being lied to doesn’t feel good, makes you sad and makes you lose trust and can lead to a loss of friends, a loss of privileges and lowered self -esteem.

 

What do you do if you at first believe your child, only to find out later that she lied?

1. Sit down, opposite your child, and tell her you need to discuss something important. Make sure to tell her up front that it’s really important that she tells you the truth, and that there might be consequences if she chooses not to do so. Pause to let your words sink in before you go on to tell her what you know.

2. If you’re sure that your child lied to you, don’t start out by asking her if she lied. (You already know the answer, so that part is not up for discussion). Instead, ask her why she chose to do so. Her answers will give you insight into her thinking and even better…it will give her insight to why she chose to lie.

3. Discuss how she might have done things differently. Practice the mantra “options come before actions”. By asking a child to stop and consider her options before choosing to lie, this will hopefully become her go-to solution when feeling trapped.

4. If she is forthcoming, acknowledge that it’s hard to do the right thing and tell her she made a good decision when she decided to be truthful. Don’t organize a celebratory parade in her honor. After all, this is more about her developing character from within than her performing satisfactory according to your standards.

5. Ask her how she plans to remedy the situation. Let her come up with solutions. Does she need to apologize, write a letter, draw a picture or pay for a broken or stolen item? By doing this, she will be held accountable for her actions and she will also alleviate some of the shame. Rectifying mistakes is a brave thing to do and it builds self-esteem.

When it comes to lying, I try not to over react when it comes to isolated incidents. A pattern of lying, on the other hand, sometimes need to be dealt with differently. So if your child repeatedly lies to see what she can get away with, you might have to resort to grounding her as a way to reboot her system. Being grounded from all electronics and all activities outside of school leads to boredom which often leads to a child having to stop and evaluate her behavior. Is there a pattern to when your child decides to lie? Is she reacting out of fear to disappoint you?  Has she become overly dependent on your praise and have you become the gauge she uses to measure her own worth? Does she lie to friends in order to gain social standing? Having her come up with a list of her positive traits and finding a way to build and expand these traits will often help an insecure child grow more confident which often leads to a decrease in lying.

 

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How I Created Picky Eaters in a Few Easy Steps

PickyEater_300xDo you want to hear about one of my biggest parenting mistakes? I raised picky eaters. It didn’t start out that way. When my children were young, they ate basically everything (except the time my then two year old was served Swedish meatballs for the first time, and threw them on the floor, convinced they were cat poop).

Then my husband started working late. So what did I do? I let the kids eat ahead of us. I made my children mac and cheese, hot dogs, or fish sticks but felt my husband and I needed salmon, soup or salads to go with that occasional glass of wine.

At first it was nice to spend an hour or more cooking after the kids were in bed. Spending my day surrounded by plastic hamburgers, a yellow plastic kitchen and an Easy Bake Oven, I felt all grown up experimenting with mature sounding ingredients. To me, cooking was kind of like adult arts and crafts. It was nice to sit down to dinner and an adult conversation towards the end of the day. There we were, the two of us. He, still wearing his dress shirt and nice pants and I was in my mom jeans and crafty looking, color coordinated top. It was like we were on a date sort of (minus the nervous laughter and the anticipation of what would happen next).

It didn’t take long before my husband and kids grew accustomed to the diner method of eating. Our family dinners were now ruined since all of us together at the table became a symbol for yucky food to at least one person in the group. My husband looked disappointed each time he had to chase his peas around the plate while dodging the mashed potatoes. If I served salmon, my middle child did the fake eating thing, my baby arched his back, threw his arms up in the air and cried. And my oldest child looked like I served her cat poop– again.

So, I continued cooking two dinners. I knew all along that I wasn’t doing my children any favors by catering to their under developed taste buds but I was too tired to deal with the consequences. My joy of cooking decreased as the dirty dishes increased and my resentment grew. I wanted things to get back on track.

After one dirty frying pan too many,  I finally came to my senses and stopped the meal madness. For hundreds, even thousands of years, parents managed to feed their children without making things so complicated, I told myself. Catering to my kids was just lazy. I began  to cook meals that all of us could at least tolerate. That meant fish sticks and peas one night, salmon another night, and a lot of chicken in between. The nights the kids didn’t like their dinner, they were welcome to make themselves a sandwich or have cereal once dinner was over.

When the horrid looks, the fake eating and the loud protests were going on, I did my best to focus on the dinner conversations and not the food. Most of the time I did okay. Sometimes I lost it, left the table and wondered how I let such an important part of parenting slip through my fingers.

I read somewhere that it takes an average of thirteen times for a child to accept and actually enjoy a new food. I also remember reading a recent study that showed children did better at eating new foods if parents remained neutral during dinner time and kept food related lectures off the table. Had I a chance to start over I would have kept these facts in mind.

Our kids are now adults. To my amazement, my daughters have become quite aware of what they put in their bodies, sticking to organic vegetables and fruits whenever possible and eating mostly vegetarian meals. The 19 year old is still up to his knees in fast food. I have hope and faith that he will graduate from kids’ meals in time for his wedding reception.

My husband and I are back where we started. Free to choose our dinners, we sit at the table that just yesterday it seemed, held enough dishes to cover the entire surface. The worn pine table has part of our family’s history engraved in the soft wood. Traces of spelling words and marks left by a son who grew impatient listening to sister topics are now visible on the empty surface.

I can hardly remember what we had for dinner last night. I think it was sole. Today we miss the fish sticks and tartar sauce–not because those dinners nourished our bodies. The company nourished our souls.

 

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Drug Prevention and Drug Use

 

drugsIf you read this because you want to prepare yourself for the possibility that your child might one day get caught using drugs, good for you. If you read this because you suspect that your child is already using, you are not alone. I hope some of these tips will help you as you navigate these rough waters.

Why Do Kids Use Drugs?

Genetic factors, self-esteem issues, poor impulse control, and weak parental attachments are all ingredients that often play a part in whether or not a child will experiment with drugs. Mix a few of these factors together and the probability that your child will develop an addiction (and doing so at a faster rate) increases. To some kids who struggle on multiple levels, the pros outweighs the cons when it comes to using.  Other kids have plenty of reasons to stay clean and still feel drawn to it.

Prevention

1. Speak to your child about drug use—and start early. Voice your opinion without lecturing (if possible). Ask your child what she knows and how she feels about the subject. By having an open dialogue with your child, and letting her speak freely, you give her a chance to formulate and organize her thoughts, worries and strategies as she talks.

2. Get to know her friends. Who does she look up to in school and why? Kids search for role models. The friends your child is drawn to say a lot about the person she wishes to become.

3. Help your child find her passion. Growing an interest increases self-esteem.

4. You might consider giving your child an incentive not to use. In general I’m against bribing but can see making exceptions when trying to prevent drug use. A bribe kept me from smoking cigarettes during the 1970’s. That bribe gave me  enough courage, a reason and an excuse to withstand peer pressure. The decision not to smoke when smoking was the norm taught me that it was possible to swim against the tide and  win. It gave me a reference point and experience in saying no.

Signs Your Child Might Be Using

Some signs of drug use are obvious (like her clothes or room smelling like pot). Other clues to look for are:

1. Changes in sleeping or grooming habits.

2. School related concerns such as declining grades and frequent tardies and truancies.

3. Behavioral changes (usually for the worse although a few kids become overly helpful and almost too good in order to cover up the fact that they are using).

4. Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

5. Dropping long-time friends seemingly over night.

6. Instant lack of money or a need to sell belongings for cash.

7. Items, clothing or money missing from siblings or parents.

8. Blood-shot eyes or bottles of eye drops in your child’s room or backpack.

Your first instinct might be to ask your child if she is using. However, users lie. Users with a tight parent-child bond lie too. Parents who have a close relationship with their kid might actually be more inclined to trust their child which works in the child’s favor.

When it comes to keeping your kid safe, her privacy becomes secondary. This can be tough on a parent as you are forced to go from being the parent you want to be to the parent you have to be.

You can start by searching your child’s room, her clothing, her car etc. You can take apart dressers, containers, search inside shoes, inside lighting fixtures, behind paintings and posters, search diaries and social networking accounts.

You could also buy fairly inexpensive test kits online, ask her to pee in a cup and within minutes you will have your answer. Users can be very crafty when it comes to faking test results, so if you are fairly sure that your child is using, you have to actually watch her perform the test (especially after the initial test when she is aware that she is being monitored). Make sure to test randomly with shorter and longer intervals between testing. You probably feel terrible having to do this but many children secretly welcome being tested. It gives them a reason to say no when offered drugs. Besides, for many long-term users, using is no longer a choice. They no longer have the ability to quit and they need for you to intervene.

Positive? Now What?

Do your best to keep lines of communications open. While going through this, your child needs her home base to remain as stable as possible. This means expressing that love you feel for your child in different and expanded ways by being calm yet firm and not giving in or getting involved in discussions that you know are non-productive and destructive.

If your child uses infrequently or if you caught it early, you might get by with counseling, frequent testing and a complete change of friends.

If your child is a frequent pot smoker and still tests positive after more than six weeks (which indicates fairly heavy regular or continued use) a treatment program might be the best solution. As long as your child is under the age of eighteen, you have time to research and find the best program possible for your child. A good place to start is calling your school counselor, a parent support group or your child’s doctor.

However, if your child is over eighteen, she is old enough to refuse treatment. Signing a no-use contract that includes rules regarding testing or voluntary treatment with a four month warning to move out should she fail to comply with your rules, is one option available.

Nobody prepares you for the day when you might have to take drastic actions and give your child an ultimatum. The stress is enough to tear the most solid family unit apart. During times like these, it’s often necessary for professionals to take over, leaving you with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Please don’t beat yourself up.  If a parent’s love and care were enough to keep a child drug free, there would be very little drug use in this world.

 

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How Do I Get My Kids to Clean Up?

floorTo some parents, a nightly clean-up ritual is essential. I envy you. I wasn’t the greatest enforcer when it came to making sure my children kept their rooms clean. Looking back, I think I should have made a greater effort at teaching my kids the virtues of order and how tidy surroundings can calm your senses.

It’s not like we never cleaned. We did but not often enough to turn it in to a do or die habit. Too many times I opened the door to my daughters’ playroom, with the intention of cleaning, and having them clean along with me. Then I took a closer look. I saw a perfect little world in there: Barbie and The Beast in a plastic convertible on their way to the park. Belle caring for The Littlest Pet Shop critters, Lego houses lined up perfectly in a row, the three legged cow at the rehab farm, and stuffed animals occupying the doll house. Asking them to clean up would be like asking me (or should I say my husband) to stop painting a wall only to start all over the next day.

A few days could go by. I watched the playroom set-up evolve, and then turn into a mess. That’s when I knew that the process was complete and it was time to clean.

Were I to do it over again, I think I would have been a bit more insistent that my kids clean up each night before bed time. It would have been a nice habit to get in to and to pass on. It would have given us a chance to spend some time talking as we cleaned. It would have minimized the mess and the time it took to clean once or twice a week.

Clean-Up Tips

If clean-up has become a struggle, here are some tips that might help make it easier. (Since I didn’t care all that much, how do I know that these tips work, you ask? The answer is, I used them when caring for other kids and when having what my family called a clean-up party.)

1.   Show the child how to clean. Break up the task into smaller segments by dividing the room into sections or the task into smaller chores. Turn it into a game by setting a timer and see how many toys can be picked up in two minutes, or compete to see who can pick up the most toys before the timer goes off.

2.   Figure out what the best time is to clean up. If your child is too tired to clean before bedtime, maybe he can do it earlier in the evening?

3.    If the task seems overwhelming, divide the toys into school day toys and weekend toys. Let him play with all toys on days when there is more time to clean up. Let’s face it, today’s children have a ton of stuff, and it’s easy to get carried away while playing, not realizing the complete mess that’s left behind.

4.   Some parents also follow the typical school rule of only playing with one item at a time and cleaning up that toy before bringing out the next one.  This works with puzzles and board games, but doesn’t work as well during fantasy play where the story evolves and more stuff is needed to support the play.

 What If Your Child Refuses to Clean Up?

If your child refuses to clean, here are a few ways to deal with it:

1.   If it happens only once in a while, this is a good time to show and teach compassion and either help the child or do it for him. If you have more than one child, you might suggest that siblings help as well. This is a wonderful way for a brother or sister to make a difference and feel helpful. Just make sure it doesn’t become an expected thing or a way out.

2.   The natural consequence of regularly refusing to clean a room might be to have a majority of the toys removed, only to gradually return them as your child realizes that cleaning up is worth it and that you mean business. Don’t think that this is a onetime cure however. Repeat as needed, and don’t return toys until the child shows a pattern of cleaning up.

3.   You could also add cleaning to a list of daily priorities. The list has to be completed before electronic devices are returned for instance.

4.  Another way is for a parent to set a deadline, and if the room has not been cleaned, the child (usually a teen with more freedom) will be charged a substantial cleaning fee. If this happens, the child also runs the risk of losing things he deems to be treasures but you see as trash. Make sure to warn the child ahead of time if you decide to take this approach.

5.  Some parents even take a hands-off approach, where an older child has to live in his own filth until he sees the light. Bless you, oh patient parent. I couldn’t do this.

A clean room might never become a high priority in your child’s life. If it’s a priority to you, make sure you remain consistent.  At the same time, remember that timing is everything. That is, if you knock on your child’s door with the intention to see how he is doing in general, please don’t enter only to start complaining about the mess in there. Ignore the mess, even if it means having to make a pathway to get to, and sit down on his bed. Instead, discuss the messy room at a different time, in a different (neutral) place. By doing this, you show your child that your relationship comes before a clean room. There is a time to parent and a time to just let your child know you’re happy to see him.

 

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About Spanking

 

signs1I couldn’t write about discipline without bringing up the subject of spanking. Since I believe discipline is something we teach our children, not do to our children, I bet you can guess that I’m against the concept.

At the same time I feel for parents who try to do their best, and sometimes get frustrated. Although I find spanking to be unnecessary, I understand the parent who feels there are no other options.

Raising kids, after all, is a learned behavior. Many of us utilize the same parenting techniques used by our own parents. To do things differently might be seen as a way to dishonor the generation that came before us.  Making changes can be especially tough for someone who is still seeking parental approval. So, we continue where our parents left off. After all, the old  techniques worked for our generation and the ones before that.

Raising children today is different however.  Of course we still want our children to behave but we also want the next generation to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate through life. In addition, we expect and demand more from ourselves as parents. This calls for an expanded parental tool box.

Having cared for children for more than thirty years, I can usually tell which children are spanked on a regular basis. No, children that are spanked are not better behaved. Often these children don’t know how to listen properly. Why not? Because words are not highly valued  and isn’t the ultimate currency used in their homes.

Today, most reputable dog trainers agree that hitting a dog is wrong. Most teachers can keep a classroom filled with five year olds in check without using physical force. Many spouses who slap their mates end up in jail. Employee abuse is no longer tolerated, yet productivity and corporate profits are high. Could it be that society is evolving, and child rearing techniques will follow?

Many parents use spanking because it works. It stops a behavior. That’s where the effectiveness ends. Will it strengthen the parent-child bond and add to a child’s sense of trust? No, and if a parent is looking to model great problem solving skills (so necessary in today’s world) spanking will not do it. Then there is the questions regarding how hard to spank and when to stop spanking. There are no correct ways to spank a child. Some ways are more tolerable than others maybe, but is it possible to do things differently and still get the desired result? Answering no to that question would be to short  change parental power.

Let’s say you would like to change, where do you start? Begin by thinking about what kind of parent you would like to be. Read, ask questions, study others and search for role models from your past and in your present.

As you try out your new approach, be patient with yourself and your child. Don’t become alarmed if your child’s behavior worsens in the beginning. It’s his way to test new boundaries and to see if you mean business. More is now expected in terms of self control and self discipline (from both you and your child). It takes time to master new tasks.

It takes courage to change. It takes courage to seek new ways that better align with the parent you wish to be, and better align with the relationship you seek to have with your child. A child deserves boundaries and perimeters. He deserves to learn right from wrong. He deserves to learn how to behave. All this creates security and self-confidence. He also deserves to be treated with dignity.

To read more about my approach to discipline, click here.

If you need specific help, contact me.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Approach to Discipline

Love-Heart-02If you just became a parent you might not have given much thought to how you will discipline your child, yet it is the aspect of parenting that will have the most impact on your child from day one until adulthood.

My view is that effective discipline is created not as a reaction to an undesirable behavior, but as a way to instill self-discipline in your child. If you think it sounds like I’m one of those parents who let my kids run free and learn on their own, keep reading.

Where Do You Start?

Discipline doesn’t start when your kid messes up. It starts the day your child is born. And it starts with you, not your child.

1. You begin by building trust. Kids are more willing to listen to people they trust.

2. You gain trust by being consistent.

3. Let your expectations be known ahead of time.

4. Decide ahead of time what your magic word or action should be—the one that will stop a behavior. Some parents count to three.Some use a special tone of voice. Others, feel the need to use physical punishment as their way to show a child that they mean business (for more on this, please click here). Yet other parents only has to say no and say it once, and the child will listen.

5. To get to the point where the spoken word is and remains powerful, try this: Use the word no sparingly and only when you mean it and when you’re ready to enforce it. Children base their current behavior on past experiences. If you want the word to stop a behavior, it has to become your red light word that stops the child in her tracks. If you fail to follow through right away, it turns into a yellow light word, meaning your child will continue her behavior. (The only difference is, she will do it faster.) And if you use the word no with zero follow- through what so ever, it turns into a word you use only to cover your own parental butt. (That way you can say “I told you so” if something goes wrong.)

If you find yourself over-using the word no, you might want to add a few phrases to your disciplinary list and save the word for when you’re ready to enforce it. For instance: “maybe some other time”, “let me think about it”, ”ask me when we get home” or  “not now” are all effective for those times when you’re not ready or in the mood to give a definite answer.

6.. When trying to teach a child right from wrong, it can be very difficult to stay calm. You might notice that your child is tuning you out, so you begin to speak faster and louder. Before you know it, desperation sets in and you become an unrecognizable erupting volcano of words and feelings, worries and threats. It’s not pretty–and it’s not effective.I speak from experience.

Next time, you might want to try to do the opposite. That is, the more important your message, the fewer the words and the lower your volume ought to be. Just think about it, anything valuable we tend to use sparingly and carefully. Treat your message like it has value.

What If Your Child Doesn’t Obey?

So what are the consequences for not listening to a parent? It depends on the age of the child. During the first few years, it’s best to divert your child’s attention when you want to discourage a certain behavior.  Remove a child from a situation, replace an inappropriate item with a better suited one, or turn your back away from a child who uses bad behavior to gain attention.

As your child gets older, there will be times when she will decide to disobey or misbehave. That’s when it’s necessary to apply the brakes teaching your child that her actions and decisions have consequences.

The use of natural consequences is an effective approach to teaching self-discipline. A natural consequence is one that mimics the kind your child will encounter as an adult. For instance:

An older child who doesn’t clean her room might need extra training with added cleaning chores for a week.

A six year old who repeatedly behaves poorly in public might have to stay home the next time you go out for some fun activity.

A child who has a hard time getting ready for school might have to go to bed earlier at night to get some extra rest.

A child who doesn’t complete homework will get bad grades, missed playtime, supervised homework time or all of the above.

When to Ground Your Child

In my opinion, grounding is used way too often and becomes ineffective when used regularly and for too long a time. However, if a child repeats the same behavior time and time again, it might be necessary to ground her in order for her to get a chance to reset her own system.

Does this sound complicated? It might take some practice but it’s all common sense.  I promise, it will not be long until your child develops her own inner, self-regulating scale. How long depends a lot on how persistent you are as a parent. When it works, don’t stop. It works because you keep doing it.

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Sibling Harmony? Is It Possible?

huggingThere is no secret to why siblings fight. Babies aren’t born with great conflict resolution skills. They enter this world fairly self centered by necessity in order to survive.

Just as a child begins to develop a sense of emotional security, a sense of self, compassion and all of the more sophisticated feelings that come with age, along comes a sibling.  The world of your first born is rearranged. Like when you thought you were done spring cleaning. You sit there content with everything in perfect order when your spouse shows up with five large boxes from the attic, wondering why you’re not curious and excited to see what’s inside.

How to Prevent Sibling Rivalry Ahead of Time

When it comes to promoting sibling harmony, it all starts with you and it all starts early.

1. Before your second baby is born, start referring to the baby as “your brother” or “your sister” when talking to your child about the baby.

2. Also, refrain from making any large changes a few months before the baby arrives. You don’t want your older child to associate the arrival of a sibling with him being moved to a different room or a different bed for instance.

3. If the mother is the primary care giver, have dad play a larger role in the child’s life, long before the baby is born.

4. Once the baby is here, take lots of pictures of the two siblings alone. Place these pictures around the house as a constant reminder that they belong together. I even had pictures of my two girls on a shelf in their bathroom. They spent a lot of time in there so it made sense to me.

5. Involve the older one in smaller decisions regarding the baby, and praise positive actions.

6. Make sure to spend private time with the older one each and every day to instill the fact that he didn’t lose a parent when he gained a sibling.

How to Promote Sibling Harmony As Kids Get Older

OK, but what do you do if your kids are older, and you missed the opportunity to begin early? As the children become verbal and spend more time together, the real work begins. ( Click here for more on how to deal with fights.)

1. When my kids were growing up, the rule was simple: Don’t tell on each other unless there’s an emergency. I didn’t want siblings gaining ground by stepping on each other.So while they could let me know that they were having a problem, they soon learned to rephrase the first impulsive outburst before they reached me.

2. Positive behavior was sometimes rewarded with small surprises. I sometimes interrupted with a trip to the ice  cream store for instance. While I wouldn’t recommend bribing, rewarding good behavior sporadically is perfectly fine, as long as it isn’t done regularly. You don’t want kids to expect a treat each time they play nicely.

3. It’s never a good idea to compare two siblings . Even such innocent sounding statements as “this is my reader”  or “he is my quiet child” are damaging. You couldn’t ruin a sibling relationship faster if you placed them on different continents.

4. Oh wait; there is one way to ruin a sibling relationship faster — playing favorites. How could I almost forget that one?

5. Now and then, when the family are all together, have each person say what they like best about another family member. Showing and modeling appreciation is like super glue for a sibling relationship.

6. With siblings, there is a potential for a lifelong friendship. This doesn’t mean that there will not be times when their relationship will be tested. As your kids grow up, refrain from taking sides when they’re going through difficulties.  If you even mention the word “maybe” (as in “maybe she didn’t mean to…”) you, as a parent, have gone too far. Instead, listen, and ask if you can help. If the answer is no, back off. Waaaaay off—into the next county.

I always said that I rather have my kids upset with me than with each other. I think I succeeded. I know– be careful what you wish for. No, to tell the truth, I  found it to be quite touching when I saw my kids defend one another, even if that meant they were both upset with me. No matter how wrong I felt they were at the time, I sometimes gave in just because I valued the way they came to each other’s aid in times of struggle. And I just loved to see the look of surprise, victory and appreciation for each other in their eyes when they won the argument. So they got a cookie right before dinner or they got to stay up half an hour later than usual now and then. If the argument made sense, I told them so, and  I gave in. Sometimes when you lose as a parent, your reward becomes larger.

 

 

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Chores and Allowances

child holding moneyHow do you as a parent deal with chores and allowances? Do you pay for chores or do you feel that kids are supposed to help out without expecting payment? Do you give allowances on a regular basis or give money when you feel it’s warranted? There is no right or wrong answers to these questions, of course. It does take some work to find a system that matches your own view on financial matters however.

I developed my own approach regarding this subject by working backwards. My goal was to raise kids who would feel as though they mattered within the family unit. I also wanted children to learn the difference between instant and delayed gratification. So I used money and chores as a teaching tool to try to achieve this. Let me explain.

We all want to feel needed. Kids are no different. Even a teenager, who may look like he doesn’t care, wants to hear that the family needs and appreciates him. A century ago, children had to help with farming or babysitting chores, not as punishment but because the family unit would be worse off without the assistance. Although none of us would want to return to those days, being a vital, necessary part of the family unit did wonders for a child’s self esteem.

As parents we want our children to do well in school, excel at sports, pick decent friends, and give back to the community. We serve up opportunities on silver platters to make all this happen. What we many times forget to add to the equation is a child’s need to feel needed, and to give back to the immediate family. It’s difficult to feel valuable when all that seems to be valued is what you do for yourself. This puts many kids in a position of having to constantly justify their very existence. We treat our kids (and they act) like privileged house guests while we wonder why they don’t appreciate all that we do for them.

Chores– Great Esteem Builders

With this in mind, chores ought to be seen, not as punishment, but as esteem builders. To help build a child’s self esteem, I never turned down anyone willing to help, no matter how young a child or how busy I was at the moment. Whether it was a one year old who wanted to feed me sticky cheerios, a two year old eager to help unload a dryer or a four year old wanting to wash a car, their help was always genuinely appreciated.

As they got older, responsibilities such as walking and feeding the dog, setting the table, cleaning up or taking out the garbage were not paid chores but were done to help the family unit function better. Larger chores such as painting, yard work, washing cars or mowing the lawn were paid chores, and a child would do them as they needed money or if we needed help.

What if the chores weren’t completed?If the chores weren’t completed within a reasonable amount of time, or if the response I received was beyond normal signs of irritation, I assigned additional jobs, explaining that it looked as though my child needed more practice doing chores, and here was his chance to practice. My kids soon realized that it was in their best interest to get stuff done as soon as possible.

To show respect for their schedule (the way I wanted them to show respect for mine) I always let them know ahead of time that I needed their assistance at a certain time. I also made sure to show my appreciation when the tasks were completed.

Allowances

When it came to allowances, my goal was to focus on the child developing a financial sense through trial and error. From the age of five, my children received a weekly allowance, paid regardless of how many chores were completed. The allowance was enough to learn self regulating skills but not so high that they would lose the incentive to do larger chores for money.

At the age of thirteen, the weekly pocket money was turned into a monthly allowance that covered most non-school related expenses. At this time they also started doing their own laundry (a natural extension of buying their own clothes). The first six months of being responsible for a larger amount of money while anticipating future needs and wants can be quite challenging. It’s tempting to go in and micromanage as a parent. This would be a major mistake. This should be a learning opportunity. Failing at times is a natural part of mastering any new major skill.

When to Step In

Developing an inner financial gauge can be a difficult and long process for a child– and even a tougher process to watch. It’s hard to watch your child walk to school wearing jeans in June because she failed to budget for new shorts. It’s tough to see her devastated look as she pulls her new, expensive shirt from the dryer, only to find out that it shrunk to fit a small doll. During the times when a true mistake was made (and my motherly heart spoke the loudest) I sometimes stepped in with some extra money or a loan. However, I tried never to cover calculated risks that failed.

Through the years I’ve watched many parents use money as a controlling device or as an emotional bargaining tool. These parents withhold money when they feel disappointed in, or neglected by their child. They also become overly generous when feeling guilty or when they seek a child’s approval. Kids are smart. They know manipulation when they see it.

Few subjects are wrapped up in so much emotion as those dealing with money. The fear that your child will become financially irresponsible, and ending up living in a cardboard box under a bridge, pretty much begins to take form the day she eats all of her candy in one sitting.It takes time to find a financial comfort zone however. By starting early, and with small amounts, financial losses and gains will shape most teenagers into financially responsible adults. The sooner we, as parents, get out of the way of this process, the quicker this will take place.

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When Siblings Fight

angerOf all the beautiful words in the English language, my favorite word is mom. It fits so nicely on a card. When called out like a question (mom?) as soon as a child enters the house, I run for the milk and cookies.

The same word can also be used as a powerful tool when two siblings fight (moooommmmm!!!) and just like that, the three letter word that took nine months to create loses its charm. Like nails on a chalkboard or a knife sawing through a cheap steak and finally reaching your plate with too much force and speed, it becomes cringe worthy. What do you do when your children fight? When do you let kids be kids and when do you intervene?

Most, if not all, siblings fight. Disagreements even have the potential to teach problem solving and compromising skills needed in preparation for working life and marriage. It’s healthy to express feelings, and a child should feel free to do so without it creating feelings of shame. Kids should also be allowed to develop this skill uninterrupted when possible. This doesn’t mean that you as a parent can leave two fighting siblings in a room and let them go at it. Conflict resolution takes practice and skill. If taught how, children can learn a lesson that will serve them well for life, and make your home life much more peaceful.

When to Step In

So while the average bickering might best be seen as a way to practice getting along, it’s important for a parent to pay attention to how siblings fight. Are they able to focus on the problem (“I don’t like when you use my stuff without asking”)? If so, skip ahead to the last section. If, on the other hand, they feel the need to get personal (as in: “you’re the worst, ugliest sister ever, and I wish you lived somewhere else”) then you need to step in.

Needless to say, fights that end in physical altercations should never be tolerated. Today, mental health workers are paying closer attention to bullying, including bullying among siblings and step children. Abusive behavior (mental or physical) inside the home is no longer accepted as being part of growing up. In my opinion sibling abuse is even more harmful than abuse suffered outside the home.

How to Stop a Fight

So how does a parent best arbitrate a sibling fight? If it becomes physical, separate the two, ask them to retreat to their own private spaces and return to discuss the matter once their brains are up and running.

If your child comes to you for help, if you’ve had enough of them arguing, or if you don’t like the way they are fighting, intervene but give them a chance to solve the problem on their own first. One way to do this is to place an egg timer in their room. Set it for ten minutes, and tell your kids that when the time is up, you will help them. Make sure to add that they might not like your solution so it’s to their benefit to work things out. Leave the room and return promptly after ten minutes to see if they need more time or if they’re at a deadlock. Let both take turns to tell their side, and help them brainstorm and come up with a solution,

This works when you’re at home, but there are times when fighting has to be stopped at once and you don’t have time to go through the steps I just mentioned.. I personally couldn’t accept any kind of fighting while driving. If a fight broke out, I simply pulled over, turned off the engine, and started (fake) reading a magazine without saying a word. When the kids wondered what the heck was going on, I informed them that the car was unable to move forward as long as they were fighting.

If a fight broke out in a restaurant or in a store, I warned them once, and if they continued, we left. Once home, I asked them if they wanted to continue their discussion. At the time it seemed like a high price to pay but the action paved the way for better days ahead.

A lot of times squabbles seem to occur in waves. As kids develop and change, so does their relationship. During these growth periods, fights often become more frequent. If the age difference between the siblings is large, or if they’re at different developmental stages, you, as a parent, might have to step in more frequently. It’s important to make sure the younger sibling doesn’t get verbally bulldozed or that the older one doesn’t get blamed automatically because he’s older.

Still Fighting? Pull the Emergency Brake

If the bickering continues or if new fights erupt like wildfires for a day or two, you might have to do something that has more of a lasting effect. One method is to separate the two for a day. Explain that they need a vacation from each other in order to appreciate one another again.

When you tell them to stay in separate areas for the rest of the day, act as though you understand how difficult it must be for them to constantly have to be around each other. This is not a punishment for bad behavior. It’s a vacation–a chance to be alone for a day.

When you separate siblings they usually come up with very creative ways of communicating without being in each other’s immediate space. This is fine, but if you catch them playing together, separate the two and gently remind them about the vacation.I know it might sound insane to separate two kids when they get along but this is one of those times when you have to stick to the plan in order to get your point across. If you give in too soon, the fighting is likely to resume, and you’ll lose credibility as a trusted enforcer of rules and keeper of promises.

The Very Important Last Step

Once all is calm, give your children a chance to build on their relationship by practicing saying I’m sorry, hugging each other, and (depending on how big the argument was) having them do something nice for each other. This very important step helps alleviate feelings of guilt and gives children a sense of closure. Although a parent might have to suggest that a peace offering is made, it’s up to the kids (or the one considered at fault) to come up with the specifics. Something as simple as “sorry– I’ll help you clean up your room to make you feel better” is all that’s needed. This isn’t a good time for a twenty minute parental sermon. You’re not handing out punishments—the siblings are giving each other a gift.

The more conflict resolution tools you and your kids have, the less heated and less frequent arguments become. Slowly your kids will grow to appreciate each other. Don’t believe me? Just look at the huge assortment of touching greeting cards out there dedicated to brothers and sisters. Those cards are there for a reason. People buy them. So will your kids one day.

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